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Introduction To The Scripture For Thanksgiving - Year B
Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; I Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Thanksgiving Sunday Year B


JOEL 2:21-27        In every culture the harvest season is a time of 
thanksgiving.  Such celebrations occurred in ancient Israel as this excerpt
from one of their minor prophets shows.  The images of plenty pour out on
the page, line after line.  What is more, this abundant harvest came after
years of privation.

The significant element of this celebration comes to the fore in the phrase
"rejoice in the Lord your God."  Providential grace, not human effort alone, 
yields the abundant harvest.  


PSALM 126           This brief psalm exults in the return of the exiles
from Babylon.  The dream of two generations had come true.  The psalmist 
likens the experience to a harvest when the watercourses in the parched
desert of the Negeb were flowing from plentiful rainfall.  It could have
been included among the Songs of Ascent to remind Israelites of who gave
them whatever prosperity they might enjoy.


1 TIMOTHY 2:1-7     The two Letters to Timothy probably date from about
120-140 AD.  A church leader, using Paul's name, wrote to guide a younger
pastor (or several pastors) in his (their) ministry.  Among other counsel,
he warned about a serious heresy.  Here he gave instructions about how and
for whom to pray.  Most surprising is the inclusion of the king (i.e. the
Roman emperor) and government officials.  The philosophy behind the
Canadian Constitution reflects this very contemporary prayer in the words,
"peace, order and good government."


MATTHEW 6:25-33     This well-known passage from the Sermon on the Mount
declared that the secret to God's ample provision for human need are trust
and obedience to God's righteous rule.  Our response to God's plentiful
grace, not anxious manipulation of economic and financial systems, will
bring about the universal prosperity God wants all of us to enjoy.

************

JOEL 2:21-27   In every culture the harvest season is a time of 
thanksgiving.  But not all cultures celebrate it as one the North American
continent.  In Canada, with its northern climate late November, when it is
celebrated in the USA, is a poor time for the festival.  So by custom and
official sanction it has been celebrated in mid-October which often is the
prettiest time of the autumn season.  Unfortunately, in recent years it has
lost its religious significance.  It has become just another long weekend,
time for closing up the cottage or getting the garden ready for the winter.

Such celebrations occurred in ancient Israel too, but were distinctly
religious as this excerpt from one of their minor prophets shows.  The
images of plenty pour out on the page, line after line.  What is more, this
abundant harvest came after years of privation.  At the very heart of the
celebration is praise for the Lord God of Israel beside whom there is no
other.  This is an important note because at the time of Joel (possibly
circa 400 BCE) Israel was still struggling with the persuasive influence of
fertility rites common to most Middle Eastern religious traditions.

The passage does not stand alone, however, but is part of a carefully
constructed prophecy balancing an oracle of doom with this celebratory
promise of restoration and providence.  Nor does the chapter stand in
isolation from what goes before it in chapter 1.  Together these three
parts form a dramatic whole which can be quickly summarized in narrative
form.  

A plague of locusts and a drought has devastated the land.  Despite
performing all the appropriate rituals of fasting and repentance, nothing
could stop the total destruction of the nation.  To the prophet this could
only mean that the Day of the Lord was near (1:15).  Dire warnings (2:1-11)
and pleas on Yahweh's behalf for a return to faithfulness end in the
declaration of a fast and further rituals of repentance.  Finally, the
prophet is able to speak for Yahweh promising an end to the plague of
locusts, the resurgence of growing things and the return of prosperity. 
All of this has but one intent: to show that Yahweh is in the midst of
Israel and Yahweh's people will never again be put to shame.  The tone
changes quickly, however, to condemnation of other nations to avenge their
oppression of Israel.  The promised salvation is for Israel alone.

We are almost totally ignorant about who Joel was and when he prophesied.
The emphasis on temple rituals and frequent reference to the priesthood
suggest that he can best be placed in the post-exilic period circa 400 BCE. 
The events which inspired his prophesies, however, are quite clearly
defined in the text.  Christian use of Joel's oracles, however, are almost
exclusively limited to 2:28 which formed the text for Peter's sermon on
Pentecost in Acts 2.  That isolated quotation gives a clue to the real
significance of Joel.  Here Jewish apocalypticism of the intertestamental
period began to take shape. 

The natural catastrophe of locusts and drought prefigured a theological
interpretation that cast these events on a cosmic scale.  Yahweh's purpose
in covenanting with Israel held promise of both privation and privilege
depending on how Yahweh's people responded.  Yet this would not necessarily
take place within a historical context.  Yahweh's vision of a renewed
creation could only reach fulfilment in the spiritual realm and be
implemented in the natural world through the inspiration of the Spirit.  It
was this element of redemptive apocalypticism which the Apostolic Church
embraced as its mandate.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
marked the beginning of this new age of universal peace and plenty.

The significant aspect of this passage comes in vs.23 "rejoice in the Lord
your God."  Providential grace, not human effort alone, yields the abundant
harvest which we celebrate at Thanksgiving.  But widespread hunger and
homelessness - in this country and to a greater degree in other parts of
the world - surely point to the stark reality that the God's vision of a
time of peace and plenty for all people, not for one nation alone, is still
far from fulfilled.  


PSALM 126   This brief psalm exults in the return of the exiles from
Babylon. The dream of two generations had come true.  The psalmist likens
the experience to a harvest when the watercourses in the parched desert of
the Negeb were flowing from plentiful rainfall.

There could be such rejoicing only because this had been a marvellous
demonstration to the gentile nations that Israel's God had done this great
thing.  Behind the celebration, however, there was also a realization that
there was much to do before thanksgiving could be complete.  Reconstruction
had to be undertaken.  No harvest could be reaped without sowing in hope. 

The psalm was included in the Psalter by later generations as one of the
Songs of Ascent perhaps to remind the people of Israel that their
prosperity depended on Yahweh alone and the trustful cooperation of Israel
with their God.  This attitude is indeed appropriate for modern
congregations to exemplify as well.


1 TIMOTHY 2:1-7   The Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) probably
date from about 120-140 CE.  An anonymous church leader, using Paul's name,
wrote these episcopal letters to guide less experienced pastors in their
ministry.  It must be said, however, that other scholarly opinions propose
different theories as to their date and origin.  For example, William
Barclay believed that the author had before him some excerpts or perhaps
whole letters from personal communications from Paul.  Around these he
composed an amplified series of letters more suited to the church of his
times.  His special concern was to protect the church from a dangerous
heresy, probably Gnosticism which became rampant in the Christian
communities in the 2nd century CE as contemporary religious literature
outside the NT canon reveals.

In this passage we read the senior pastor's instructions about how and for
whom to pray.  Most surprising is the inclusion of the king (i.e. the Roman
emperor) and government officials "so that we may lead a quiet and
peaceable life in all godliness and dignity."  The philosophy behind the
Canadian Constitution reflects this very contemporary prayer in its intent:
to create a state where "peace, order and good government" exist.

The significant aspect of this call to prayer is that it exists at all.  It
represents an attitude toward the Roman imperial government which may have
existed briefly during a relatively peaceful time in early church history.
Indeed, it conveys such a degree of respect as to include the government in
God's will and extends the promise of salvation through faith in Jesus
Christ to those who rule.  Could this have been Paul himself speaking?
After all, according to Acts 25:11, he claimed his right of Roman
citizenship to appeal to the emperor; and in Romans 13:1-7 counselled the
Christians in Rome to be subject to governing authorities, to obey the laws
of the state and to pay their taxes.

On the other hand, the theme of this passage in not government, but the
universality of the Christian faith.  Having come into serious conflict
with the imperial cult, Christians would not pray *to* the emperor, but by
praying *for* the emperor they removed any danger of disloyalty while at
the same time placing all imperial authority under the sovereignty of God.
This type of prayer made the imperial government the subject of salvation
and continued until the emperor became at least nominally Christian in the
4th century.

This summons to prayer also reflects a view very distinct from that of the
true Pauline letters.  For Paul, there was a permanent tension between the
political and spiritual realms.  This tension would cease only when Christ
returned to establish his reign.  Paul expected that to occur in the very
near future.  Expectation of the Second Coming having faded, the author of
the Pastorals became concerned with how Christians were to live in the
world in practical ways that helped them to be good Roman citizens.  Even
the Roman government was of concern to God.  Nonetheless, salvation did not
depend on the political system or the favour of human authorities.  It
depended on the gospel of Jesus Christ to which the author of the letter
and the Christian church as a whole gave witness as the truth given by God.

That this letter is not from Paul but from a much later apostolic
representative is clearly shown in vs.7.  Having worked intimately with
Paul for several years, Timothy would not have needed to be reassured of
Paul's apostleship or his mandate to preach to and teach Gentiles.
Furthermore, the triad of *preacher, apostle, teacher* appears only in this
passage and in 2 Timothy 1:11.  Paul never designated his office in this
manner.  Rather, we see here the developing church order of the 2nd century
as one of its key leaders sought to establish a pastoral institution which
would both carry out the apostolic mission and protect its representatives
from the threats of civic authorities. 

It is frequently said that the Constaninian Age of the church has now
ended.  Church and state no longer engage one another for mutual benefit.
The church today lives in a similar space to that reflected in this letter.
As William Hazlitt (1778-1830) said in a very different context, we have to
live "in the world, as in it, not of it."  The celebration of the
Thanksgiving, no longer a religious festival, but a holiday mandated by the
civil authorities, is a case in point.  Our worship will make it more than
the last long weekend of the season.


MATTHEW 6:25-33   This well-known passage from the Sermon on the Mount
declared the secret to God's ample provision for human need: trust and
obedience to God's righteous rule.  Our grateful response to God's
plentiful grace, not anxious manipulation of economic and financial
systems, will bring about the universal prosperity God wants all of us to
enjoy.

Would that these values could be translated into action by the economic and
political decision makers of the global institutions we are in the process
of creating.  We tend to forget how much change has occurred in the past
few decades.  One recent estimate held that just a century ago the vast
majority of the world's population had no more annual income than the
poorest people of the world today.  Was it Gandhi who said, "If everyone
cares enough and everyone shares enough, there will always be enough"? 

In 1971, just prior to the first oil crisis and as the computer revolution
was just beginning, the noted economist, Robert Heilbronner, predicted that
no one would ever again be as rich as North Americans had become and the
global economy would never be as fully developed as it was at that time.
How wrong he was!  In 1995, Heilbronner summarized 188 reports of economic
development he had received from international observers on three
continents in these words: 

"Their common insight is that the global free-market paradigm is neither
viable ecologically in the long term, nor adequate, in the short term, to
meet the basic needs of all peoples for human development.  Those
interviewed are not ideologues and have no ready-made alternative to offer,
but they are searching for broader alternative approaches to development,
ones that include a critical handling of cultural and spiritual values.  I
say a critical handling because most of those interviewed have no illusions
about how easily cultural and religious values can be frozen into external
forms and institutions that betray their original meaning.  They would
agree with Mohamad Sahnoun: manifestations of cultural and religious
values, like values found in the dominant economic paradigm - secularism,
individualism, materialism, paternalism, and marketism   can become modern
'golden calves.'"

We do need a new vision of how to work out on a global scale what this
gospel reading anticipated.  Theologian Gabriel Fackre called it "God's
Vision" for the world.  The Commission on Global Governance, in its 1995
report, *Our Global Neighbourhood,* affirmed the need for "neighbourhood
ethics" and "neighbourhood values" as the cornerstone of future global
governance.  The report quoted Barbara Ward as suggesting that "people have
to see with new eyes and understand with new minds before they can truly
turn to new ways of living."  The quotation continued: 

"The most important change that people can make is to change their way of
looking at  the world.  We can change studies, jobs, neighbourhoods, even
countries and continents  and still remain much as we always were.  But
change our fundamental angle of vision and everything changes   our
priorities, our values, our judgments, our pursuits.  Again and again in
the history of religion, this total upheaval in the imagination has marked
the beginning of a new life... a turning of the heart, a "metanoia," by
which men [sic] see with new eyes and understand with new minds and turn
their energies to new ways of living."

As this analysis was being written, Hon. Paul Martin, then Canada's
minister of finance, has been making an earnest plea to the World Bank and
the International Monetary Fund to extend a moratorium on burdensome debt
repayments that cause developing nations to restrict their spending on
health and education, and so worsens the cycle of ever increasing poverty
and disease.  Commitments of this kind can only help those in greatest need
in those parts of the world that made the developed countries wealthy in
the colonial period of past centuries.  This was an attempt to carry into
the global economy the justice and righteousness of God which Jesus set
before us in the gospel for today.  Three years later, our failure to do so
is exemplified by the way the wealthiest nations of Europe and North
America refuse to reduce their exorbitant subsidies to producers of many
agricultural and other raw materials so as to encourage trade with
developing nations in Asia and Africa. 

-30-
     
                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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